Various arguments put forward by its proponents and opponents are brought to discussion in an attempt to preserve objectivity and meet academic standards.
The women's voting rights movement was not an independent strand of social activism. Its history is profoundly intertwined with public protests and demonstrations for the abolition of slavery, universal male franchise, etc. In fact, for close to a century after the American Declaration of Independence, only a select minority of property owners were entitled to vote1. This automatically disqualified all women, for property was transferred through paternal lines, from father to sons, without any share for daughters. A large section of white men from low socio-economic backgrounds were hence disenfranchised. The position of black men and women was even more pathetic, given that they themselves were treated as 'property' and traded in slave markets2.
The reasons given for this linkage between property and suffrage were not founded on objective truths about human nature, but were a result of prejudice and lack of understanding. The members of the political and cultural Establishment argued that "the true reason of requiring any qualification, with regard to property, in voters, is to exclude such persons as are in so mean a situation that they are esteemed to have no will and independent judgment of their own." 3 Whatever the requisites for voting franchise were, they were based on questionable and vague "virtues" amongst the electorate and its representatives. Needless to say, such conditions excluded a large majority of people on the basis of race and gender4.
If opposition to women's voting rights first came from the wealth-owning elite in the United States, more subtle forms of suppression were witnessed in Britain. The Women Writers' Suffrage League (WWSL) and the Actresses' Franchise League (AFL) were formed in 1908 with a view to support the suffrage campaign through "propaganda, plays, sketches and performances"5. But, the upper-class male dominated theatre establishment of the day saw an affront to their own privilege and lifestyle in the works presented by writers from these leagues. While historians would mark this period as the Edwardian era, the attitudes held by ruling-class men was still very much Victorian and conservative. Hence, beyond citing practical reasons for denying women suffrage, they asserted how such changes are morally wrong. Even progressive organizations such as Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) could not agree on issues of sexual morality. Radical feminist group, the Freewoman even advocated the concept of "free love" without the legal constraints of marriage6. Such notions on women's freedoms offended the orthodoxy as well as fellow suffragettes. When Millicent Fawcett requested Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy to resign from the Married Women's Property Committee for the latter having borne an illegitimate child, the divisions within the suffragette community became obvious. Hence, the opposition to women's voting rights came not just from men wanting to protect their superior status, but also from many women sympathetic to the cause of suffragettes but, however, were apprehensive about its moral ramifications7.
It should also be pointed out that the